The American Scene
Despite the severity of the Depression and insufficient sums allocated by the government to allay public distress, the American people, as a whole, showed remarkable strength amid their adversities. An unusual array of useful indexes of national opinion—literary, photographic, artistic, and statistical—all verify that most Americans, even in their most difficult times, maintained essential confidence in themselves and the future of their country and its institutions. In a phrase, they continuously displayed hope.
We often speak of hope as a virtue or personal asset, but we also often minimize its dynamics and may therefore underestimate its salutary effects. For Americans in the Great Depression, it is the key that explains their positive outcomes, and it is therefore important to understand in general terms its psychological underpinning. 1
Hope is described in a wide corpus of Western literature and experience from Greek myths to contemporary studies of mental health. When Zeus was angry with Prometheus for giving man the ability to make fire, heretofore an exclusive secret of the gods, he chose to punish not only Prometheus but also humankind. He commissioned Pandora to bring hideous things in her box and then unleash its contents to plague everyone's lives forever. And to assure that the effect would be devastating, he enjoined her to keep Hope out of the box. Men without hope would be desperate, and, Zeus apparently thought, deservingly so. Hope thus appears central to positive outcomes—or to reverse the time-tested cliché, "Where there is hope there is life" (i.e., good adaptive life). One group of psychologists noting hope's facilitating role in mental health have defined hope as a state of mind that results from the positive outcome "of ego strength, perceived family support, religion, education and economic assets." Still others have